From Fear to Facebook: An Interview with Matt Levinson (Part Two)

This is the second part of an interview conducted by Erin Reilly, Research Director, Project New Media Literacies.
Now that you've established a one-to-one laptop initiative at Nueva, do you see a need to think ahead on integrating mobile devices into the system as well, especially with the lure of the iPad being promoted for schools?

There's always the need to think ahead, and of course with technology, it can be a challenge to keep pace. The iPad is cheaper and lighter than a laptop, it has a great screen, it's fun to use, and the number of apps is growing.  There is no video creation capability, it's hard to type on it (unless you have purchased the keyboard), you can't take photos with it, though you can view and manage your photos.  Will it gain traction as a stand alone device for schools?  I'd like to think so, but it may take some time.

Will students really use the iPad exclusively and primarily for the "academic enhancement" of the courses?  Probably not.  The iPad will double as a learning and social/entertainment tool. Schools need to go into these endeavors with both eyes open to the possibility that students will take the devices in directions not anticipated or even imagined, and that's what is exciting.

The iPad is a fantastic, alluring consumption device, and transforms navigation, reading, and viewing.  The key question is how to turn it into a content creation tool.  That will be the challenge for schools to face as they move to adoption of the iPad.

Can you share more about how the iLab at Nueva School works?  ...From how you established a relationship with Stanford University, to how you work with them on going, to how the iLab is used in students' learning.

The iLab opened its doors in 2007, the same year we launched the laptop program.  We have a superb iLab director who partners with teachers to create curriculum that embeds design thinking and incorporates engineering principles.  Our iLab director is an engineer, and she is working to develop a K-12 design thinking curriculum.  The exciting part about the iLab is the way teachers bring an interdisciplinary lens into their planning and approaches, and design thinking asks kids to step out of their comfort zones to go deeper into idea development.  The premise of the iLab is to be explicit about teaching creativity.  Beyond class projects, kids also have the opportunity to explore in the iLab during lunch recess with robotic arms, for example.  Each summer, we send teams of teachers to Stanford's Design Thinking Workshop, and that has helped with teacher development and curricular implementation. 

How do you encourage your teachers to push the boundaries?  Can you provide an example of an exemplary teacher? 

Nueva is about pushing boundaries for kids and for teachers.  We love it when teachers come up with new ways of looking at curriculum or have a new idea about how to implement technology.  One teacher in particular, a science teacher, has been a self-starter and leader with technology from the start of the laptop program.  This past year, she was a Google fellow.  She is always thinking about technology, and bubbles with ideas and implementation.  She is eager to figure out how to make iPads work in the classroom.  Her whole class is digital - lectures, labs, assignments - and she takes pride in the "green" aspect.  Her enthusiasm has spilled over to others and there is an organic approach to teacher development with technology.  Also, there is nothing better than to see a teacher beaming with being able to imagine possibility with kids and technology.  

In talking with other schools and teachers, we've heard that bringing in experts or other adult role models into the classroom are one of the hardest things to do.  Do you find this the case at Nueva?  And if not, can you share some insight to others on how to facilitate these connections?

One big lesson we've learned at Nueva is that you can't go it alone.  Reach out to experts in the field.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  We try to foster an environment at Nueva where we are all learners.  We have speakers come and speak to parents, teachers, and kids and we hear similar messages. It sends a signal to kids that we are all trying to learn.  During the first year, we reached out to Common Sense Media, and to cyber safety experts like Steve DeWarns.  In the second year, we brought Alan November to work with our teachers, and to inspire our students.  The big takeaway is that we are comfortable knowing what we don't know and then we try to learn more.  Technology is endlessly fascinating, and there are always new iterations.  We want to keep learning along with the kids. 

I completely agree that "finding the balance between appropriate oversight and student's rights and needs for privacy is anything but easy".  In your chapter on Privacy and Little Brother, you talk about how Nueva School uses ARD (Apple Remote Desktop) technology to monitor what the student is doing on his / her laptop. How do you respond to those who might argue that this is a violation of student privacy? Another concern that could arise with use of ARD in schools is the removal of teachers having to discuss with students what they are doing on their laptops during class time.  How would you address this concern?

The key thing about ARD is that it cannot serve as a stand alone to manage student behavior in the classroom.  It's so critical to invest time in the classroom with kids to create the culture and build the relationship.  It's also so important to be transparent with kids about why ARD is being utilized by the school.  The ultimate goal is for kids to gain the ability to regulate their behaviors.  At times, it can be a challenge for kids, particularly in their first year of the laptop program, to control their use, and to keep the focus on using the laptop as a tool to enhance teaching and learning.  A big challenge for schools, and we've seen this with Lower Merion in Pennsylvania, is the issue of transparency and communication.  We have ARD as one tool to use, but the most effective tool is the relationship among student, teachers, and parents.

A graduate of Teachers' College, Columbia University, Matt Levinson is the assistant director and head of the middle school at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, California. Prior to moving into school administration, he taught middle and upper school history for fourteen years at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey. Matt Levinson is the author of From Fear to Facebook: One School's Journey, published by ISTE in August 2010. He writes and thinks about technology, parenting, and schools.